Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wigilia - The Director's Cut

Here's the final menu from our Christmas Eve feast:

Crabcakes; wild mushroom soup; roasted cod with arugula; kapusta (saurkraut) with mushrooms; potato-cheese and saurkraut-mushroom pierogies; fruit compote, Panforte di Siena and rugelach for dessert.

My cookbooks tell me that the Wigilia feast should have an odd number of courses (or dishes, I guess) - seven, nine, or eleven. If you count all the desserts as one course, it brings the total to seven. I had also picked up the ingredients to make cucumbers in sour cream (a favorite of my hubby) and cauliflower baked in a cream sauce (because I felt compelled to have another vegetable). The thought of nine courses for just four people was a bit much, however, so I saved those recipes for another day.

We ended up doing a simple treatment with the cod, based on an Epicurious recipe. The cod was seasoned with salt and pepper, fried on one side in a hot cast-iron skillet, then flipped over and finished in a 400F oven for about 5 minutes. We served it with a simple arugula salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and the kapusta. The arugula went surprisingly well with the cod; the kapusta, not so much - the flavors were too strong for the fish. In retrospect, it might have worked better to serve the kapusta as a separate course with the pierogies, perhaps as an appetizer. Although that would have brought us to three appetizer courses!

I found a recipe for Polish Dried Fruit Compote (Kompot) on, and then - as usual - ignored most of the instructions. I did stick with the 1 1/2 pounds of dried fruit, 8 cloves and 2 cinnamon stick directives, but added much less water (~3 cups instead of 8) and sugar (1/3 cup instead of a whole cup; I think dried fruit is sweet enough). I also added a splash of brandy (works for fruitcake - why not fruit compote?).

The recipe's notes say that compote was originally made with twelve dried fruits, to represent the twelve apostles. It took some scrounging around the pantry, but we came up with 12 (mostly) different fruits: figs and prunes, which were purchased just for this recipe; dried currents, dried pineapple, golden and regular raisins, which were leftover from holiday baking; dried cranberries, apricots, and peaches, which we have on hand for my son's snacks; dried lychees and red dates, which I use to make Eight-Treasures Tea; and finally dried chestnuts, which I bought to make Korean ginseng-stuffed chicken (but never did).

OK, you caught me - the chestnuts are not really fruits. Or maybe they are? I don't know enough of chestnut tree biology to address that question. The recipe author on (and my husband) wondered which of the twelve fruity apostles was supposed to be Judas; I'm thinking that if it has to be someone, the chestnuts are it. At any rate, the stuff smelled delicious whilst it was simmering in the kitchen, and the chestnuts came out quite tasty.

Altogether, dinner lasted about four hours (not counting the snacking we did all afternoon on cheese, bread, nuts, and olives). We took our time with it; most of the dishes were prepared during the day and re-heated as we went. I was still pretty full when I woke up this morning.

...but we somehow managed to eat a little breakfast. I'd bought a huge Panettone that sufficed to feed us while our son opened his presents. Later in the morning, I used the Wigilia leftovers to make a big breakfast based on a specialty at a local diner: crabcakes benedict. I toasted some baguette slices and topped them with some arugula. I warmed a couple of leftover crabcakes were re-warmed in a skillet then placed on top of the arugula. I put fried eggs on the crabcakes, and topped the whole thing off with some mushrooms from the soup. Yum. We were so busy eating last night that I forgot to take pictures, but I did get a shot of our breakfast this morning.

Now off to cook more food. Today will be easy; I'll bake the leftover kapusta with some kielbasa. More pierogies are awaiting their fate in my freezer; it's simple enough to fry them up. I might even get around to making those cucumbers in sour cream.

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